Why I'm Catholic
Dr. David Daintree is the president of Campion College, Australia's first traditional liberal arts college. David has been married to his wife Elizabeth for over thirty years and they have three grown children.
Crossing the Alps
I want to talk about my own spiritual journey, a major part of which was the crossing of the Alps – I speak figuratively – from Canterbury to Rome, and the influences on my life that led me to make it.
I was an only child. My parents, protestant in background though normally describing themselves as 'Church of England', were typical of their generation: they were good people without Faith or even an interest in religion. They grew to adulthood in the twenties and thirties, part of that post-World War I generation that had experienced suffering on a terrible scale, and had inherited the gloomy agnosticism of the Victorians – that creed that Science had all the answers and that Progress alone was divine.
But when I was very young, so young that I can't possibly date the time I first heard it, my Mother taught me a Jesus prayer. It's a very childish little prayer, but I still keep it to myself like a secret mantra and use it when I feel distressed. Whether my mother believed in it I seriously doubt. But she taught it to me. Motivated by what? A feeling that it was proper that I should learn a prayer or two? A sense of wistfulness for her own lost Faith? (I'm sure as a child she had had faith). A sense of hope that it might be true? I cannot say. All I know is that she taught it to me, and I believed it, and I still believe it. And to her credit she never did or said a thing to weaken that faith that came to me as a gift from God through her instrumentality.
That good woman never went to Church, nor ever prayed as far as I'm aware, but retained a good deal of her protestant disdain for Catholics (though her dearest friend was a devout Catholic woman). But I recall when I 'converted' her saying to me, 'I hear you've changed your religion'. I replied, 'no, I'm still a Christian'. We smiled at each other. I wanted to avoid a confrontation, but she knew exactly what I meant - and was happy enough with it. She died, I believe, in a state of grace, in a Catholic nursing home, ministered to by a lovely and gracious nun.
I'm going to change tack. This world of ours affects to hate hypocrisy above all else. In an 'I-Me-Mine' world, hypocrisy is blasphemy against the all-holy ego.
I'd like to put it to you that hypocrisy has had an undeservedly bad press. That a certain kind of hypocrisy might actually be a good thing, for the most part, as well as an essential tool for the smooth running of a civilized community. The Greek word hypocrites means an actor. So when I am a hypocrite I am acting something out: perhaps I do it in order to cheat or deceive (we would all agree that that would be 'bad' hypocrisy!), or perhaps to avoid hurting somebody's feelings, or actually to achieve a positively good end.
Where is all this leading? As Christians we believe in the Law written on our Hearts. We believe that that Law is discernible by all and that any person can by Grace come necessarily and naturally to Faith if he or she is not impeded or scandalized. My mother taught me to believe, or made belief possible, or allowed Grace to operate (I don't really know how or what happened, I just know that I have always believed and that it started then). And in a certain sense she did so hypocritically, because she probably didn't really believe herself. And as I grew older I was lucky enough to have teachers, at school or university, who either fed and encouraged my faith, or at least did nothing to weaken it. I have no doubt that many were unbelievers, but I would call them, at the very least, courteous. They were hypocritical enough to let me grow in my faith without hindrance.
I went to an Anglican school, but declined confirmation when the time came, because I just wasn't interested in the formal side of religion. Mine was a shapeless, ill-disciplined form of belief. I was perhaps more of a Platonist than a Christian.
But at the age of 18 I saw a Catholic Mass – a missa cantata – and was so moved by the chanting and, in particular, by the frequent repetition of the phrase per omnia saecula saeculorum that I think I became a Catholic at that moment. But my reaction was not to join the Catholic Church, but to become confirmed in the High Church spectrum of the Anglican Church, which claimed to be a valid branch of the Catholic Church in temporary schism with Rome.
And there I stayed happily enough for over 20 years until, in 1986, Pope John Paul II visited Hobart, where I lived, and the local Catholic Archbishop Guildford Young publically addressed him as 'my brother bishop'. For an Anglican this was very important: it reminded us that though the Pontiff was a Sovereign he was also a bishop, and that his papacy arose from the circumstance of his being a bishop – the Bishop of Rome. He was, in the language of the early church, primus inter pares, first among equals.
It was enough for me. I was received into the Catholic Church in 1988. In many ways I still have an Anglican mind and world-view, having had great respect for Anglican liturgy and spirituality, but I see myself as a 'fulfilled Anglican'. I am an Anglican who has come home.
To learn more about Dr. David Daintree please visit his personal website.